Can Teeth Impact Heart Health?

The body is a fantastic mechanism. The body can perform amazing things with multiple organ-based systems working in tandem. But sometimes, when poor health is present in one area, other parts of the body can serve as a warning sign to alert patients and physicians that underlying medical conditions may be present. For example, there’s a real connection between oral health and the cardiovascular system. And in some cases, poor oral hygiene can increase a person’s risk of heart problems.

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Why oral health matters

Most people know that teeth should be brushed at least twice a day, if not after every meal. But not everyone flosses or regularly sees a dentist for routine checkups and cleanings. However, poor oral health has a direct link that can lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease, coronary artery disease, and even a heightened relationship between diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and poor dental hygiene.

Increased bacteria can heighten cardiovascular risks

One of the leading theories regarding the relationship between teeth and the heart centers around bacteria entering the bloodstream. People with gingivitis or periodontitis are at an increased risk of having the bacteria which can cause those conditions could pass into the tiny blood vessels inside the gums. The bacteria can potentially cause inflammation and even damage inside the cardiovascular system. People may develop blood clots or even experience a stroke or heart attack in some cases. Research has shown that physicians have found oral bacteria in blood vessels that aren’t located near the mouth.

Poor oral health can indicate low self-care

To be clear, oral health alone isn’t a strong enough factor to determine whether or not a person has a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. But some experts believe the argument can be made that someone who prioritizes dental health would also be proactive regarding heart health. Factors such as failing to brush teeth regularly or not seeing a dentist may imply that a person is less likely also to schedule regular checkups with a physician. As a result, someone that fits this profile is more likely only to address health concerns once a heart problem forces that individual to a hospital or clinic.

Understanding the science

While there is an observed link between poor dental hygiene and cardiovascular health, even researchers agree that oral care isn’t a definitive predictor of whether or not a patient will develop heart problems. Instead, many of the studies noted commonalities and an increased presence of oral disease in patients with comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and even people who had suffered heart attacks or strokes. Similarly, much of the oral health information was self-reported by study respondents, meaning that the claimed frequency of oral care might not be accurate.

When to see a doctor

Even for people that have a healthy cardiovascular system, dental health is essential. At a minimum, people should be seeing a dentist every six months for a routine cleaning and checkup. Similarly, people should also schedule routine checkups with a physician based on age. Regular visits will usually also include screenings for high blood pressure, cholesterol. People 50 and older should go annually if in good health while younger individuals can go every three years if in good health. Individuals with known health problems should see a doctor more frequently to ensure that any conditions are well managed. And people who might be experiencing symptoms related to cardiovascular disease should schedule an appointment with a physician immediately.